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Read "Is there any safety -- or equality -- for gimps? by W. Carol Cleigh



"I had to quit my job . . . "

By Jean Ryan

had to quit my job as a teacher because of Access-A-Ride. They made me leave so early for work that I'd get to school 1 1/2 hours before class started. Going home, I'd be driven around for two hours in Manhattan and Brooklyn before being dropped off after what should have been a 30-minute trip. Sometimes they wouldn't pick me up at all. It is almost impossible to get any kind of a follow-up and reply to a complaint. I filed a complaint a year ago and have still never heard anything.

Another rider has made hundreds, maybe a thousand, complaints and only heard back once. We need to get numbers for our complaints so we can follow up on them. But that can't happen until the MTA is totally revamped.

NYC's Access-A-Ride a "disaster," says news reports; FTA is investigating. Access-A-Ride is a "disaster," wrote the New York Daily New's Greg Smith."It's badly run and poorly supervised, and financial incentives are in place to keep it that way.".

In a series of investigative articles in late February, Smith (no relation to "On A Roll" host Greg Smith) reported the $133 million-a-year program run by New York City's Transit Authority -- the most expensive in the nation ­uses an antiquted computer system "that its drivers say is set up to create delays and confusion.".

Nor does the Transit Authority seem to worry overmuch about safety. In 2002, there were over 600 incidents of "injury or major damage," including collapsed suspension systems, doors that wouldn't stay closed and wheelchair lifts that didn't work." People "have become dislodged during bumpy rides," including an 87-year-old woman whose legs were broken. One rider's wheelchair came loose and both she and the chair landed on her aide, giving the aide a concussion.

"Other riders," wrote Smith, "say injuries occur when riders are getting in and out of the vans because wheelchair lifts fail or drivers don't do their job.".

"If they need [an unsafe] bus for a run, they use it. They fix it when they can, or not -- [even though] these vehicles are out of service because of a major safety defect," a safety inspector told Smith.

Because van operators are paid by time on the road rather than completed trips, the system cannot effectively schedule vans to meet the needs of riders, wrote Smith. "Drivers are assigned to routes that are impossible to complete.".

Smith reported on drivers "assigned to pick up two separate passengers miles apart at the same time. . . . Drivers were assigned to pick up passengers at precisely the same time they were supposed to be dropping others off miles away. . . . The computer assigned drivers to pick up passengers one hour later than the passenger's requested pickup time.".

Riders who declined a ride when their van showed up an hour or more late are routinely listed as "passenger no-shows," he wrote. Van no-shows are blamed on passengers as well. Atlantic Paratransit, one of the subscontractors, failed to report one of every four van no shows. "A van is considered a no-show if it arrives more than 45 minutes late," but "vans showing up one hour late and much worse" were not reported as van no-shows "because riders accepted rides anyway.".

In March, the Federal Transit Administration, in response to the series, launched a probe of the program. A report is not expected before fall.

When she climbs into a van, Brown, 52, who is blind, has no idea how many other passengers are on board, no idea where the driver is headed and no idea how long her trips will take between her Staten Island home and Manhattan for her sociology studies.

She recalls one "world tour" from midtown to Staten Island that nearly circumnavigated the city, passing through all but one borough before she got home.

"I got picked up in midtown Manhattan, but we had to head uptown to pick someone up on the border of the Bronx," she said. "Then we go to Queens, then Brooklyn, then Staten Island.".

What should have been a 45-minute trip took three hours.

-- from "A Hell On Wheels: For City's Disabled: MTA's Access-A-Ride gives 'em the 5-boro runaround," by Greg B. Smith, New York Daily News, Feb. 23, 2003, Available in NY Daily News Archives for a small fee ($5.95 for 10 articles).

For years, we were promised that a new scheduling system installed in 2002 would make a difference. It made things worse.

All of New York City's buses have lifts. Buses are an alternative to Access-A-Ride -- but some bus lines do not run at night or on weekends. And some trips would involve too many buses and too many hours of travel time.

The subway is the fastest way around New York. Many of us would use the subways if they all had working elevators and no vertical or horizontal gap between the train and the platform (the ADA allows gaps that cannot be traversed by wheelchairs and scooters). Most stations have no elevators, and the ones which do exist are filthy, smelly, and often do not work for months at a time. The MTA is adding elevators at an extremely slow pace. So we are stuck with Access-A-Ride.

Subcontracting to private carriers -- Access-A-Ride uses eight -- and paying paratransit lower wages -- is standard practice nationwide. People on "regular" mass transit would be up in arms if they had to put up with this.

Activists and politicians have pressed for change. We have held a demonstration and a march, spoken at press conferences, written articles and letters, gone to meetings, and gathered information.

Since February, the New York Daily News has run a number of articles by Greg B. Smith on or near the front page exposing problems with Access-A-Ride -- the bad service, its mob influence, vehicles not passing inspection, the huge increase in accidents and the stranded and injured passengers. One woman even died as a result of her injuries in a van.

These articles have finally propelled the Access-A-Ride scandal into the public eye.

But nothing will improve until the Governor, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York City Transit and the Department of Buses accept the fact that Access-A-Ride is here to stay and that they have to make it a good system. As long as they drag their feet and look the other way, there will be horrendous problems with paratransit.

I was on Access-A-Ride's Paratransit Advisory Committee in the past, but it was a flop, because AAR and MTA officials didn't want to run a good service and they were uncooperative with the committee. The officials appoint Vice Presidents to run it who are retiring in three years and just putting in their time. Now a third advisory committee is starting up but it probably won't work, either, because the MTA has recruited and appointed two AAR apologists from the last committee to the new one. It is also too much for one committee to do. The system needs to be totally revamped before a committee could do much.

The ironic thing is that the MTA runs Able Ride, a pretty good paratransit system in Nassau County (Long Island), which adjoins Queens, a borough of New York City. Long Island Bus, which is part of the MTA runs Able Ride. The people at Long Island Bus want to have a good system, and so they make it a good one. It can be done, if there's a will to do it.

Jean Ryan is with Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York.

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